03 December 2018

Robert W. Service's Revised Christmas Miracle (with the poet's forgotten reading instructions)





Much of this past weekend was spent in preparation for Christmas, but I did manage a couple of hours with the December 1918 edition of Maclean's. The first to hit news stands after the Armistice, it makes for very interesting reading. The opening piece, a column titled "The Business Outlook," reminds that Maclean's started out as The Business Magazine. It begins:
Peace came with a suddenness that has left the world a little breathless. Men of discernment had predicted from the very first that, when Germany once began to crack, the end would follow within a short period. But who was there bold enough at any time before September of the present year to stand out and say that the break-up would have come before the New Year?
I doubt Maclean's editor Thomas B. Costain saw the break-up coming. How else to explain American John J. Pershing instead of, say, Sir Arthur Currie, on the magazine's first post-war cover? Even the advertising department appears to have been caught off guard:


"Now That the War is Won" by Lieut-Col J.B. Maclean, is the only article that looks to have been commissioned après la guerre. And it's very short. Other articles include "An Unsolved Mystery: A Story of Warfare Under the Earth" by Lieut C. W. Tilbrook and an interview with the U.S. Secretary of War conducted by Pvt Harold R. Peat (Mrs Peat has an article of her own in the "Women and Their Work" section). Fiction fairly dominates the issue, with short stories and serialized novels by W. Victor Cook, W.A. Fraser, Allan C. Shore, Arthur Stringer and Alice Muriel Williamson. Sadly, Shore's "Santa Clause in Petticoats" isn't nearly as titillating as its title, but Stringer's story is fantastic.


All this fiction! As the advert suggests, something to take a soldier's mind off the grim realities that he faces:


The same could be said for those on the home front. Neither would've found escape in 'The Wife' by Robert Service, the issue's only verse. I thought I knew the poem, but I was wrong. An unfamiliar note at the end had me hunting for my copy of Service's Ballads of a Bohemian (1921), in which 'The Wife' was reprinted. Sure enough, the note isn't there – and there are other significant differences:


THE WIFE
[Maclean's, December 1918]
"Tell Annie I’ll be home in time
To help her with her Christmastree."
That’s what he wrote. . . Now hark the chime
Of Christmas bells—and where is he?
And how the house is dark and still!
And Annie’s sobbing on my knee. 
The page beside the candle flame
With cramped and cruel type was filled;
I read and read, until a name
Leapt at me. . . Oh! my heart was stilled!
My eye crept up the column, up
Unto its hateful heading: KILLED
And there was Annie on the stair:
"And will he not be long?" she said.
Her eyes were stars and in her hair
She’d tied a bit of ribband red;
And every step was Daddy’s sure;
Till wearied out, she stole to bed. 
And in the quiet of the night
Alone I decked the Christmas tree.
On every little ticket bright,
My tears were falling bitterly;
And in the street I heard them call.
"Another Splendid Victory." 
A Victory! What care I now?
A thousand victories were vain.
Here in my ruined hearth I vow
From out my black abyss of pain,
I’d rather, rather red defeat,
And have my man, my again. 
Aye, cowering by my cold fireplace,
My orphaned child upon my knee,
What care I for their Empire's pride,
Their pomp and power beyond the sea?
I'd gladly see it lost and lost
Could that bring back my dead to me. 
"But come, my dear; we will not wait.
Each tiny candle pink and white.
We'll set aglow—he may be late,
And we must ave all gay and bright."
(One makes mistakes. I’ll tell myself
I did not read that name aright.) 
"Come, Annie, come, We two will pray
For homes bereft of happiness;
For husbands fighting far away;
For little children fatherless.
Beside the shining tree we'll pray:
"'Oh, Father dear, protect and bless. . . Protect and bless. . .'" 
*  *  *  * 
What’s that? A step upon the stair!
A rush! The door thrown open wide!
My hero and my love! He's there,
And Annie’s laughing by his side. . .
I'm in his arms. . . I faint. . . I faint. . .
"Oh, God! Thy world is glorified."
NOTE.—The author wishes it understood that the sentiments expressed with reference to duty and the war are to be taken as an uncontrollable outburst in the first moments of bereavement, and not as in any sense an expression of opinion.

THE WIFE
[Ballads of a Bohemian, Toronto: McLeod, 1921]
"Tell Annie I’ll be home in time
To help her with her Christmas-tree."
That’s what he wrote, and hark! the chime
Of Christmas bells, and where is he?
And how the house is dark and sad,
And Annie’s sobbing on my knee! 
The page beside the candle-flame
With cruel type was overfilled;
I read and read until a name
Leapt at me and my heart was stilled:
My eye crept up the column—up
Unto its hateful heading: Killed. 

And there was Annie on the stair:
"And will he not be long?" she said.
Her eyes were bright and in her hair
She’d twined a bit of riband red;
And every step was daddy’s sure,
Till tired out she went to bed. 
And there alone I sat so still,
With staring eyes that did not see;
The room was desolate and chill,
And desolate the heart of me;
Outside I heard the news-boys shrill:
"Another Glorious Victory!" 
A victory. . . . Ah! what care I?
A thousand victories are vain.
Here in my ruined home I cry
From out my black despair and pain,
I’d rather, rather damned defeat,
And have my man with me again. 
They talk to us of pride and power,
Of Empire vast beyond the sea;
As here beside my hearth I cower,
What mean such words as these to me?
Oh, will they lift the clouds that low’r,
Or light my load in years to be 
What matters it to us poor folk?
Who win or lose, it’s we who pay.
Oh, I would laugh beneath the yoke
If I had him at home to-day;
One’s home before one’s country comes:
Aye, so a million women say. 
"Hush, Annie dear, don’t sorrow so."
(How can I tell her?) “See, we’ll light
With tiny star of purest glow
Each little candle pink and white."
(They make mistakes. I’ll tell myself
I did not read that name aright.)
Come, dearest one; come, let us pray
Beside our gleaming Christmas-tree;
Just fold your little hands and say
These words so softly after me:
"God pity mothers in distress,
And little children fatherless." 
"God pity mothers in distress,
And little children fatherless." 
*  *  *  * 
What’s that? – a step upon the stair;
A shout! – the door thrown open wide!
My hero and my man is there.
And Annie’s leaping by his side. . .
The room reels round, I faint, I fall. . .
"O God! Thy world is glorified."

The original is better, don't you think? The note's disappearance speaks volumes to the differences between wartime and peacetime.

A note of my own: Lest anyone complain that the title of this post spoils the final stanza of 'The Wife,' I point out that this C.W. Jefferys illustration accompanied it's appearance in Maclean's:


26 November 2018

A Man Forgets His Identity (but not his manners)



The Thread of Flame
Basil King
New York: Harper, 1920
351 pages

I raced through this novel, caught up in its plot and hungry for the solution to the mystery surrounding its main character. He's first introduced as Jasper Soames, though he and the reader are well-aware that this is not his true identity:
It was a name that to me meant nothing. Referring it to my inner self, nothing vibrated, nothing rang. It was like trying to clink a piece of money on wool or cork or some other unresponsive material.
Soames, as he's known through most of the novel, remembers nothing of his life before awakening to find himself aboard a ship bound for New York. His cabin-mate, a blind boy named Drinkwater, is of no help as the two are strangers. Soames's search through his modest belongings yields nearly four hundred dollars, but no clues as to his true identity.

For the remainder of the crossing, Soames does his best to hide his amnesia, speaking in vague terms about his past and deflecting questions about himself. In doing so, he becomes a man of mystery and a subject of significant interest amongst the shipboard well-to-do: Boyd Averill, his wife Lulu, and his sister Mildred. Those of the working class accept Soames as is. They do not pry, do not judge, and readily accept him as one of their own. But Soames is not one of their own. Aware that he belongs to a different class, he is offended by their friendliness and gross familiarity, and looks forward to shedding the acquaintance of each just as soon as the ship docks. This doesn't happen as quickly as planned – Soames feels obliged to escort Drinkwater to the boy's new lodging – but soon enough he sets off on a new course.

Soames recognizes New York, and is certain that someone in the city will recognize him. To this end, he passes his days in the lobbies of the finest hotels, hoping that he will encounter an old, forgotten friend:
At any minute I might feel a clap on the shoulder, while some one shouted, "Hello, old Brown!" or, "Why, here's Billy Robinson! What'll we have to drink?"
These daily expeditions are undertaken with some trepidation, because he fears that he may have adopted the Soames name in fleeing some horrible crime.

When finally it comes, the clap on the shoulder is more of a tap:
In the interval too brief to reckon before turning round two possibilities were clear in my mind. The unknown crime from which I was running away might have found me out – or some friend had come to my deliverance. Either event would be welcome, for even if it were arrest I should learn my name and history.
Soames is disappointed in that the man who tapped his shoulder is Boyd Averill, a man who knows our hero – is he a hero? – only as Jasper Soames. Boyd is pleasant enough, but has growing suspicions about his mysterious acquaintance. Meanwhile, Boyd's sister Mildred grows close. She's attracted to Soames, recognizing him a man raised in privilege who is now on some sort of quest. In this way, he is a kindred spirit. The daughter and inheritor of great wealth, Mildred is searching desperately for a purpose in life.


Though the attraction is mutual, Soames begins to distance himself from Mildred:
Falling in love with anybody was no part of my program. It was out of the question for obvious reasons. In addition to these I was in love with some one else. That is to say, I knew I had been in love; I knew that in the portion of my life that had become obscured there had been an emotional drama of which the consciousness remained. It remained as a dream remains when we remember the vividness and forget the facts – but it remained. I could view my personality somewhat as you view a countryside after a storm has passed over it. Without having witnessed the storm you can tell what it was from the havoc left behind. There was some such havoc in myself.
Soames's decision is made all the easier because his "program" is failing. The days sitting in hotel lobbies are proving fruitless, and funds are running thin. With winter setting in, and no money to replace his summer suits, he cuts himself off from the Averill family, and moves into squalid lodgings alongside the very class of people he'd sought to reject.

There's more, much more, of course. I spoil nothing in revealing that Soames never quite regains his identity. Sure, he eventually learns his real name, and the nature of the "emotional drama," but he is forever altered by the event that caused his amnesia and his experiences living amongst the working class.

A wild ride, I very nearly finished The Thread of Flame in one sitting. What slowed my progress were a dozen or so pages near the end in which Soames tries to make sense of the Great War and the new world it created.

There's no fault in this.

I dare say we're trying to make sense of it still.

Favourite passage:
Ernestine, to do her justice, was as tolerant of me as she was of any one who wasn't a flag. The Flag having become her idol and she its high- priestess, she could talk of nothing else. The nation had apparently gone to war in order that the cult of the Flag should be the more firmly established; and all other matters passed outside the circle of her consideration. She knew I had been dead and had somehow become alive again; but as the detail didn't call for the raising of a flag she couldn't give her mind to it. As she could give her mind in no greater measure to Minna's canteen-work or Vio's clothes, I profited by the generous nature of her exclusions.
A mystery quickly solved: The Thread of Flame first appeared as a serial in Maclean's (December 1919 through 15 May 1920), accompanied by twenty illustrations by Charles L. Wrenn.

Maclean's, 1 February 1920
Ten months after publication of the concluding chapters, the magazine included this very strange piece:

Maclean's, 15 March 1921
I admit to having been mystified. The words the con quotes do not appear in the novel, nor do they appear in its serialization. A bit of sleuthing reveals that they come from an introduction that King wrote for Charles E. Chapin's Story: Written in Sing Sing Prison (New York: Putnam, 1920). I haven't read the book, but do remember it being described in The News Game (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966) by Toronto Star reporter Roy Greenaway as "one of the best descriptions of nerve-shattering newspaper toil ever written." The tragic results of this toil are described in the opening sentences of the publisher's note appended to Chapin's Story:


Object: A bulky hardcover in red boards with white type, the book is made bulkier still by four John Alonso Williams illustrations. My copy, a first edition lacking dust jacket, was purchased just last month for US$9.00 from an Illinois bookseller. As is so often the case, I paid much more in shipping than I did for the book itself.



Access: Library and Archives Canada and fifteen of our academic libraries hold copies of the novel, but not one is found in any library in Prince Edward Island, the province of the author's birth.

Other than the Harper first, the only edition of which I am aware is a cheap Grosset & Dunlop.

The Harper edition can be read online here thanks to the University of Toronto and the Internet Archive.

Related post:

19 November 2018

The Adventures of a Globe-Trotting Girton Girl



Miss Cayley's Adventures
Grant Allen
Richmond, VA: Valancourt, 2016
230 pages

Men come off particularly poorly in this novel. The first mentioned is Jack Watts-Morgan. He married Captain Cayley's widow, used her small fortune to pay off his gambling debts, and then carried her off to Burma. The poor woman is dead now, as is Watts-Morgan. The brief account of the widow's ill-advised second marriage is backstory, explaining how it is that Miss Lois Cayley, Captain and Mrs Cayley's only child, finds herself with nothing more than twopence in her pocket.

Miss Cayley's Adventures was first published between March 1888 and February 1899 in the pages of The Strand. Its heroine and narrator, Lois Cayley bears great similarity to Juliet Appleton, heroine and narrator of Allen's 1897 novel The Type-Writer Girl.* Both recent graduates of Girton College, Cambridge, each finds herself suddenly orphaned and next to penniless. Of the two, Lois Cayley is the more adventurous. Where Miss Appleton first thought is to seek office work, the high-spirited Miss Cayley finds liberation in her new, impoverished state, and determines to set out on a voyage that will take her around the globe. "I submit myself to fate," she tells her friend Elsie Petheridge. "I shall stroll out this morning, as soon as I've 'cleaned myself,' and embrace the first stray enterprise that offers. Our Bagdad teems with enchanted carpets. Let one but float my way, and, hi, presto, I seize it."


Lois's Bagdad being London, she sesoon finds herself in Kensington Gardens, where she happens to overhear two elderly grand dames in conversation. The "eldest and ugliest" complains that she has had to dismiss Célestine, her lady's maid, an action that jeopardizes her approaching trip to Schlangenbad. Lois dares approach the crusty old old woman – Lady Georgina Fawley – suggesting that she might take Célestine's place.


Titled "The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady," the opening chapter is followed by "The Adventure of the Supercilious Attache," in which our heroine, now en route to Schlangenbad as the cantankerous old lady's companion thwarts a jewel thief. Ten more adventures follow. Lois does make her way around the world – slowly at first, sprinting in the final stretch. Along the way she wins a bicycle race, exposes a quack doctor, scales down a mountain, rescues a kidnapped woman, kills a tiger, and draws the adoration of Harold Tillington, Lady Georgina Fawley's nephew.


Lois Cayley is frequently cited by academics as an early female detective. I don't quite agree. Like Harold Tillington, I was smitten by Miss Cayley, but am not so blinded by love to give her too much credit. The thwarted jewel thief (M le Comte de Laroche-sur-Loiret) and the charlatan doctor (Dr Fortescue-Langley) are one in the same. Anticipating Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf, he shows up again and again, under various guises. What is meant to be his greatest coup, is again thwarted by Lois, but she does this not through deduction but "intuition."


I hesitate in describing the man pretending to be M le Comte de Laroche-sur-Loiret and Dr Fortescue-Langley – his real name is Higginson – as a cardboard character because the others are so very well realized. Lady Georgina Fawley, the cantankerous old lady, was a favourite. Such are her ample dimensions that the reader readily accepts Lois's growing love for the grand dame. It may say something about the Lady Georgina's family that my second favourite is Viscount Southminster. Another nephew, Southminster is after the fortune of her brother Marmaduke Ashurst:
"Marmy's doing very well, thank yah ; as well as could be expected. In fact, bettah. Habakkuk on the brain: it's carrying him off at last. He has Bright's disease very bad – drank port, don't yah know – and won't trouble this wicked world much longah with his presence. It will be a happy release – especially for his nephews."
Like Lois, I saw though Southminster, though I did enjoy his "baronial drawl" and talk of Newmarket, Ascot, and music halls. A simpleton, in his effort to secure Marmy's fortune, he follows a brilliant plot that was put together by Higginson.


At the end of the novel, Southminster is exiled, while the mastermind is sentenced to fourteen years. Given a choice, I would have preferred the reverse. Of the two, Southminster is the more dangerous. As evidence, I present this exchange between Miss Cayley and Viscount Southmister that took place in India, where both had ben guests of the generous and loyal Maharajah of Moozuffernugger:
" So you've managed to get away? " I exclaimed, as he dawdled up to me at the hot and dusty station.
     "Yaas," he drawled, fixing his eye-glass, and lighting a cigarette. "I've –  p'f – managed to get away. Maharaj seems to have thought – p'f – it would be cheepah in the end to pay me out than to keep me."
     "You don't mean to say he offered to lend you money? " I cried.
     "No; not exactly that: I offahed to borrow it."
     "From the man you call a nigger?"
     His smile spread broader over his face than ever.
"Well, we borrow from the Jews, yah know," he said pleasantly, "so why the jooce shouldn't we borrow from the heathen also? Spoiling the Egyptians, don't yah see? – the same as we used to read about in the Scripchah when we were innocent kiddies. Like marriage, quite. You borrow in haste – and repay at leisure."
That the country Southminster is exiled to is South Africa only lends to the injustice.
* I'm indebted to my friend wollamshram for this observation. As he notes, bicycles and typewriters are key to the plots of both novels. No pun intended.
Trivia: Miss Cayley's Adventures is the second Allen novel I've read in which Canada figures as a setting. Blink and you'll miss it:
I cannot describe to you that journey across a continent I had never before seen. It was endless and hopeless. I only know that we crawled up the Rocky Mountains and the Selkirk Range, over spider-like viaducts, with interminable effort, and that the prairies were just the broad Pacific over again. They rolled on for ever. But we did reach Quebec – in time we reached it; and we caught by an hour the first liner to Liverpool.
Object and Access: A trade-size paperback on bright white paper with introduction by Elizabeth Foxwell. My copy follows the 2008 as the second Valancourt edition. The cover draws on the 1900 Putnam edition.

The true first edition (right) was published in 1899 London by Grant Richards. Both it and the Putnam edition feature eighty – eighty – illustrations by George Brown. I see three copies of the Richards first listed for sale online; priced from US$250 to US$675, condition is a factor. The Putnam edition is nowhere in sight. Both edition can be read online here thanks to the University of Alberta and the Internet Archive.

Library and Archives Canada and just ten of our university libraries hold copies. It is one of the gaps in the Kitchener Frontenac Public Library's Grant Allen collection.

Miss Cayley's Adventures holds the distinction of being Allen's more translated novel: Danish (Frk. Cayleys Eventyr), Dutch (Met een dubbeltje de wereld door), German (Miss Cayleys Abenteuer), French (Les Aventures de Miss Cayley), Indonesian (Mengembara dengan oeang sepoeloeh), and Sudanese (Ngalalana mekel saketip). The novel appears to have done particularly well amongst the Dutch; I count at least three different editions.


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18 November 2018

James Montgomery Flagg Does Reverend King



On this Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, an addendum to

Of all the Basil King books I own, my favourite by far is The Contract of the Letter (New York: Harper, 1914)It's not the author's best novel, but it is his most beautiful. Credit goes to James Montgomery Flagg, who provides the illustrations.


I've sung Flagg's praises here before; he was, I think, the finest book illustrator of his day. Where I a wealthy man, I would reissue Arthur Stringer's The Wine of Life – by far his best novel – in an edition featuring the two-dozen illustrations Flagg provided when it was published in syndication.

Flagg's artwork also graces King's 1917 novel The Lifted Veil, but with The Empty Sack the honour goes to lesser-known artist J. Henry, about whom I can find nothing.


It pains me to write that Henry was the right choice. Comparisons are easily made as Flagg was commissioned to illustrate The Empty Sack in its initial six-month run in Cosmopolitan. Gone are the artist's fine lines, often replaced by a cartoonish crudeness.


Curiously, one of the weakest illustrations depicts an artist, Hubert Wray, urging Jennie Follett to pose nude.


I can't account for this change in style, though I do wonder whether it was imposed by the magazine. Either way, despite the disappointment, it is interesting to to see the novel's characters, settings, and situations through another mind's eye. The living who have read The Empty Sack will find the following of interest. The living who have not read The Empty Sack will find spoilers.


I'm told that Cosmopolitan no longer publishes fiction in serial format.

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